Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Theme Song Says It All...SHAFT!

The movie Shaft was a nice break from the weird, disconnected and (in my opinion) unenjoyable movies we have viewed the past couple of weeks. I loved Shaft’s ability to remove himself from every situation, so he never gets tied up in messy alliances. He is his own man. Though the movie made cinematic references to past genres, such as gangster films and film noir, it retained a sense of currency. Everything about Shaft’s character embodied what the ‘70s were all about. The lingo, the sex, the fashion.

What I found particularly interesting was Shaft’s ability to be a separate third party in every situation. In class we discussed how Shaft was caught between many different communities and lifestyles. He straddles the line between law-abiding people and criminals. He is a shady private eye, so many law-abiding people may see him as a criminal. But on the other side, the gangsters see him as an enemy­—the farthest thing from “one of them.” He is also pulled between the desires of the investigation firm he works for and his own desires. There is scene in the movie that I found hilarious. Shaft is home when his friend Lt. Vic Androzzi from the firm stops by, saying the Captain would like to see him. He asks if Shaft is home. Shaft replies No. Androzzi tells Shaft to call him once he gets home. Apparently there is an understanding between the two characters. The investigation is out to land gang leader Bumpy Jonas, while Shaft is working to find and rescue Bumpy’s daughter. Conflict of interests? I think so. Shaft also straddles the line between sexy, smooth ladies’ man and crime-fighting, scared-of-noone badass. We he comes home, his romps with the ladies seem to be the only way he can regain his humanity. And then, the next morning, it's back to business.

I though Lucy acknowledged a very funny point last night in discussion. All the “bad” guys (in this movie, the Italian mafia) were white men, stuck in the 30’s. They donned trench coats, fedoras, and carried antique weapons. It’s like they jumped straight out of The Public Enemy into the streets of 1970’s New York. Contrasting them were the black men. They were dressed in the 1970s best. Sporting turtlenecks, plaid bellbottoms, and Afros to be jealous of, they were ready to fight crime and look good doing it.

Shaft also enlists the help of some Black Panthers (or a group similar) to rescue Bumpy’s daughter. Normally audiences would view these young men as troublemakers, potential criminals in the future. However, with the setting, the Black Panthers are portrayed as heroes; Shaft could not have saved Bumpy’s daughter without their help. Perhaps every character, even if they are a troublemaker, have some redeeming quality about them. Even hard gang leader Bumpy has a sense of love for his own daughter. He may be a well-known criminal, but that doesn’t mean he is missing a heart. Shaft has the ability to see to the redeeming qualities, if not in the person, in the situation.


  1. Considering Shaft's women, if they are what humanizes him why is he so rude to them afterward?

  2. You've hit on the power of juxtaposition. Shaft looks really cool in his 70s get up and shiny guns as compared to guys in trench coats and tommy guns stuck in another decade. You can hardly avoid looking cool in those situations. How do you think the power of juxtaposition has affected our perception of cool in the class?